Sunday Morning Adventure to Naha

Finally after months of being under a state of emergency due to the pandemic, Okinawa lifted its state of emergency on Friday. What this means is that parks, beaches, museums, and other sites are open again! And Sunday morning, I headed to Naha to visit Shurijo Castle Park & the Tamaudun Royal Mausoleum, two of the 9 Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu (a combined registered UNESCO World Heritage Sites).

Shurijo Castle was part of the Ryukyu Kingdom, a monarchial state that existed from 1429 to 1879 AD, and the Castle flourished as the center of the kingdom’s politics, diplomacy, and culture.

In 1879, the Ryukyu king was banished from Shurijo Castle and the Ryukyu Kingdom was annexed by Japan, later becoming Okinawa Prefecture. Shurijo Castle was subsequently turned into a Japanese military post. 

But in 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa, Shurijo Castle was left in ruins. It wasn’t until 1992, on the 20th commemoration of Okinawa’s reversion to Japan, that Shurijo Castle was restored and opened as a national park. The restored Shurijo Castle is modeled after the castle from the 18th century and later.

Noted for its cultural and historical significance in the distinctive archeological style that combined the structural cultures of both China and Japan, as well as the high skills in the stonework, Shurijo Castle was registered as Japan’s 11th World Heritage Site in December of 2000.

Shurijo Castle is divided into 3 areas: the ritual area, which is centered around Kyo-no-uchi; a private area for the royal family called Ouchibara; and the government area with tall buildings around Una. Both Japanese and Chinese construction techniques were applied to the deep red-colored Seiden (main hall) at Una, and this is the largest wooden building in Okinawa at this moment.

Unfortunately, on 31 October 2019, the restored parts of Shurijo Castle were severely damaged by a fire. But this is not the first time the Castle has suffered from fire damage. Archeologists estimate the Castle first burned 24 years after it was originally built. The challenge facing current restoration efforts is that all resources, including photos and drawings, were burned during the war. The current castle is being restored based on the drawings and photos of the Seiden (main hall) from 1768.

Although the Castle is currently under restoration, it is still open to visitors. Other Gusuku on Okinawa Island include Nakagusuku Castle, Nakijin Castle and Zakimi Castle—all now ruined but with impressive limestone walls and arches still intact.

Right down the street from the Shurijo Gusuku is the Tamaudun Royal Mausoleum where the 2nd Sho Dynasty* is entombed. It was built in 1501 during the period of King Sho Shin, in the midst of the Golden Age of the Ryukyu Kingdom. A huge, stone-built mausoleum, modeled on Shurijo Castle, it consists of 3 chambers that house the bones of former kings.

*The royal dynasties of the Ryukyu Kingdom are divided into the 1st Sho Dynasty and the 2nd Sho Dynasty. The 1st Sho Dynasty established the Ryukyu Kingdom and ruled from 1406 to 1469. The successor to the royal throne after the 1st Sho Dynasty was Sho En, the father of King Sho Shin who built the mausoleum. Sho En adopted the name “Sho” and started a new dynasty. This dynasty continued for 410 years until 1879.

As the photos show, the mausoleum really isn’t that exciting. What I loved were the trees around the area.

Especially the giant akagi tree. This tree didn’t survive the war but found new life when another tree attached itself to the remaining trunk. Isn’t nature wonderfully resilient?

Naha 那覇, where these two sites are located, is the capital of the Okinawa Prefecture and an easy 30-minute drive from where I live. I left my house around 9 am. I was able to visit both sites and be home by noon. What a great way to spend the morning!

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